FOREST BREATHING: GETTING LIFE RIGHT FROM THE SOURCE

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Western Canada’s winter forests are a perfect place to recharge and restore yourself. If you need a little extra wellness or self-care this winter, try the healing practice of forest breathing. Now, exhale… inhale…

There is this line in a Justin Bieber song that goes “I get my peaches out in Georgia . . . . I get my life right from the source.” I was out training for a half marathon this fall, when that song came on and I stopped and thought, that is exactly what forest breathing is. I get my life right from the source.

Back when we lived in Calgary, we would jump at any chance to grab our gear and head out into the mountains. This one crisp winter morning, after my partner and I had crazy hectic weeks at work, I looked at him and we both knew exactly where to go.

Cross country skiing Grande Prairie Jeremy Derksen
Photographer: Jeremy Derksen
Cross-country skiers enjoy the pure forest air near Grande Prairie.

Just outside of Banff there is a waterfall trail to Johnson Canyon. In the summer and early fall, it is spectacular, but in the winter, it is a pure take-your-breath-away experience.

As we set out for the 1.2 km hike to the Lower Falls, we passed a couple huffing and puffing as they were actively snowshoeing in the direction we came. They were getting life right from the source.

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There is this stretch about half the way to the falls, just as you start to get a healthy climbing sweat on, where the trees fully engulf you, enveloping you in their ice crystal dusted branches. The bright sapphire sky above.

The waterfall’s song calling you just ahead. You are wrapped in living, breathing pines, spruce, and fir. Each inhale you take, you are getting oxygen right from the source. Welcome to forest breathing!

Alpine forest
Not all who wander in the forest are lost. Have you tried forest breathing?

Where to try Forest Breathing

Most of us spend time thinking about what we should eat. We know that is important in our wellness. We think about where we should sleep, spending time turning our bedrooms into our personal healing sanctuaries.

All are important in our selfcare. But we don’t think about where we should breathe. And from a scientific perspective, location proves to be everything.

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Forest breathing is the conscious act of placing yourself at the source of greatest oxygen production - meaning around trees, in a forest, in your garden - when you are exercising your greatest aerobic activity.

That doesn’t mean that you need to be running 6-minute miles while out hiking or racing to the top of some mountain. It has a deeper meaning.

How to Forest Breathe

So let’s practice forest breathing together, in three simple steps.

1. Select or visualize a location

Picture yourself surrounded by a thick forest. Pick a place in your mind that fills you with awe. Before we take in all that delicious oxygen, we need to fully exhale.

Most of us have gone through life without fully exhaling, so this might be new and a bit challenging, but let’s stick with it. We only tend to breathe with the top 20-30% of our lungs normally. In forest breathing, we need to empty it all out first.

2. Close your eyes and exhale completely 

Stand picturing that forest before you and close your eyes as you start to slowly exhale. Keep going. When you think you have no more air to let out keep going further. When you are certain that you don’t have so much as a drop of air left in you, stay there for a second.

3. Open your eyes and inhale slowly and deeply

Now, open your eyes. Slowly start to bring in the richest, deepest breath of your day. Fill your lungs completely. If you decide to do this breathwork practice for more than one round of inhales and exhales, be sure to take a couple of normal breaths in between each round.

So when you are out on your next winter hike, ski, or snowshoe adventure, find that place of awe and get your life - your oxygen - right from the source.

About the author

Marla Barr is an author, wellness educator, top podcast host of the show Your Wellness Journey, yogi, and breathwork coach. You can learn more at www.marlabarr.com or on Instagram @marla.barr, where you can also find her new book The Belly Reset: Food Guide and Cookbook

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